He Is Risen!

Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Happy Easter!

Actually, we began our celebration last night, with the Easter Vigil. I attended the Vigil at Our Lady of Lourdes. I taught so many RCIA classes there this year that I wanted to be with the five people who would be confirmed last night (one of whom would also be baptized, and for one of whom I would stand as sponsor).

We began our celebration outside of the Church with the blessing of the fire:


We then proceeded into the Church with our lit candles and listened to the beautiful Easter Proclamation (Exsultet). We listened to stories from our salvation history, readings that never fail to move me, culminating in Jesus appearance to the women outside of his tomb.

As we began the celebration of the sacraments of Initiation and of the rite of reception into full communion of the Catholic Church, we sang my favorite Litany of the Saints. It was the Litany we always sang at my retreat house, and I took a moment to acknowledge my loss at the retreat house’s closing and destruction in the midst of the celebration of the evening.

I watched with tears forming in my eyes as Ben, our catechumen, recited his renunciation of sin and received the sacrament of Baptism:

I then stood with the other sponsors and our confirmation candidates received the laying on of hands and anointing. At the appropriate time in the Mass, I happily filed up with them, as they received communion for the first time.

The Easter Vigil is always one of my favorite liturgies of the year. Celebrating it this year with the five people I have walked with for so much of this year made it even more special. For them, as for all of us, Easter is our celebration of our rebirth in Christ.

Blessings on this holy and joyful day!


Between Death and Resurrection

Yesterday was Good Friday, a day many of us participated in liturgies that included a reading of the passion, veneration of the cross and receipt of Eucharist. Tonight (for those of us attending Easter Vigils) or tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Resurrection.

What about today? We call today Holy Saturday. For some, it is simply an anticipation of Easter. But there is something more for us in this space between death and resurrection.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to take some time in the space between Jesus’ death and his Resurrection, to spend some time in that place of Christ’s absence. He believes it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.

Now this is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. We know the next chapter of the story; we know that Resurrection follows death and so our progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seemless. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. Each Sunday we recite the words in the Creed, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again. The truth is, that living on this side of the Resurrection, we largely take it for granted. I’m not saying we don’t take it seriously – Christians treat Easter as the most important day of the religious calendar and many people who don’t otherwise do so will go to mass on Easter. (We used the expression “CAPE Catholics”)

But do we really appreciate what we have? Do we really think about what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?

The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. For them, there was a real period of darkness after the crucifixion and before the Resurrection. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Think of what they experienced. Fear – that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness – believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss – as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion – “the road before them shrouded in darkness,” in the words of one prayer.

The instruction for prayer during “tomb day” in the Spiritual Exercises is to be with the disciples and with Mary and the other women in their grief over losing Jesus. To actually be with them – taking Jesus body off the cross, washing and anointing it, placing it in the tomb and watching the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with Mary and the other disciples afterwards, to go with them wherever they go, do with them whatever they do. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”

You might take some time today in your prayer to experience something of what Ignatius invites us to in the Exercises.

He Emptied Himself

On this day, I don’t think I can say anything better:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippins 2:6-11)

Blessings on this Good Friday!

Watch and Learn from the Master

Tonight we will begin the Triduum with our Holy Thursday liturgy. We will be with Jesus as he washes his disciples feet and then wait with him in the garden. Tomorrow we will be with him to his death.

Week 3 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius invites us to be with Jesus in his passion and to enter into his perspective. St. Ignatius wants us to focus on Jesus’ experience – being with his feelings all the way through the passion, including on the cross, all the way to his death.

But it is not just about Jesus’ feelings, but also about his response. My friend Maria Scaperlanda quoted in her blog post last night her friend Father Thomas Boyer, who said:

The Passion of Christ is not about how Christ suffered, what happened to him, and how awful we might think it was. The Passion of Christ is about his response, not his persecution…

Watch and learn from the master. Despite his fear and his agony, he is focused on God and on others. He meets women who are weeping for him, and he tells them to weep for themselves. He hangs there with a criminal, and he comforts him with a promise of Paradise. No matter what happens in this Passion, it is never about him. He remains attentive and focused on God and the needs of others… This is what we can learn from the Passion; not how Christ died, but what he still teaches us through his death about hope, about sacrifice, and about love for others.

Blessings on this Holy Thursday.

Lent Retreat in Daily Living – Week 6

As we move to the end of Lent and to our Triduum celebrations, we had our final gathering yesterday in connection with the Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the law school. As I’ve observed before, our retreat this year offered participants a shortened version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

During this past week, participants prayed with the Beatitudes. After participants shared a bit of their prayer experience in small groups, we had a general discussion of the Beatitudes and the ways in which they challenge us.

After our discussion, I spoke very briefly about the prayer material I distributed to the participants, which includes praying with Jesus’ passion in the days between now and Saturday (Week 3 of the Exercises), praying with the “Tomb Day” experience, and praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (Week 4 of the Exercises).

Week 4 of the Exercises often gets short shrift. So I encouraged the participants to spend time in the days following Easter praying with the events recorded in the final chapters of the Gospels. The grace of Week 4 – a joy rooted in Jesus’ joy – is one we desperately need.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 16:21. You can access the prayer material for this week here.

Note: because of time, my reflection of today was fairly truncated. If you want something more extensive, you can scroll through the podcasts page, where you will find individual podcasts of Week 3 and Week 4 of the Exercises.

Being With Jesus in His Passion

Week 3 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ask us to be with Jesus in his passion; it is a call to compassion with Jesus’ suffering. We follow Jesus all the way to his cross and his death, willingly sharing, in the words of one author, “his choices, his anguish, his truth, his desires, his aloneness, his sense of the absence of God.”

Ignatius encourages those doing the Exercises to use their imaginations when they contemplate the events of Jesus’ life. Here are some questions suggested by William Barry S.J., in Seek My Face for this means of praying with the Gospels:

Would Jesus want me to stay with him as he prays on the mountainside? Does he want a shoulder to cry on as he weeps over Jerusalem? Does he need to pour out his feelings, too? What can I do for Jesus in his shame? Does he want me to stay with him in the garden of Gethsemane? One person spent the whole of an eight-day retreat staying with Jesus as he endured his Passion, even helping him at one point to get up and go on. Can I wipe his face or give him a cup of water? Does he suffer still as he lives with people who are tortured for their beliefs? Would he like to talk about his feelings with me? How does he feel about my presence with him in this kind of contemplation? These are only a few of the questions that might arise in us once we allow ourselves to read the Gospels imaginatively with the desire to know Jesus better, to love him more deeply, and to follow him more closely.

You might find this a fruitful way of praying during final days of Lent.

What Do You Want of Me?

I will be driving back to the Twin Cities this morning full of gratitude for the graces God blessed us with during the women’s retreat I gave this past weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh.

One of the things I shared with the women over the weekend (during the reflection I offered on St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation) was a poem written by Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystics of the Christian faith. I thought Teresa’s words might be good ones for us to reflect on as we move through this Holy Week toward the Holy Thursday and Good Friday. They invite us to consider what is our response to the overwhelming love of God, a love made manifest in the events we will celebrate later this week.

I am Yours and born for you,
What do You want of me?

Majestic Sovereign, Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?

Good Lord, what do you want of me?
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What do you want of me?

In your hand I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness, Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do you want of me?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What do you want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abundance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What do you want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor, I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What do you want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
Davie pained or exalted high,
Jonas drowned, or Jonas freed:
What do you want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting.
You alone live in me:
What do you want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me.


Today, as I and the retreatants with whom I have spend these last few days prepare to bring our retreat experience to a close, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds praise him and lay palms at his feet, still thinking he has come to establish a kingdom here on earth. These same crowds will soon be crying, “Crucify Him!”

Today, however (with apologies to those of you who are not fans of Jesus Christ Superstar), they sing out their Hosannas:

Blessings on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion!

Feel The Shattering Love of God

As many of you konw, there was a time during the years I practiced Buddhism that I was ordained a Tibetan Buddhist nun. I took the vows of a nun thinking it would be an aid to my practice. (There is in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism – at least as I encountered it – a bias toward the monastic life for those who are serious Buddhist practitioners.)

I remained a nun for little more than a year. What I discovered was that I was spending so much energy trying to be a good nun – working to keep purely the various vows I took – that I felt my being a nun was actually hindering my practice rather than helping it.

I thought of that experience when I came across something Frederick Buechner wrote:

We try so hard as Christians. We think such long thoughts, manipulate such long words, and both listen to and preach such long sermons. Each one of us somewhere, somehow, has known, if only for a moment or so, something of what it is to feel the shattering love of God, and once that has happened, we can never rest easy again for trying somehow to set that love forth not only in words, myriads of words, but in our lives themselves.

We try so hard to be good Christians, just as I tried so hard to be a Buddhist nun.

Yet all we really need to do is to let ourselves “feel the shattering love of God.” From my own experience, I know that Buechner is absolutely right. Experiencing that love changes everything, doing something to us that long thoughts, long words and long sermons never can and never will. The thoughts, the words, the ideas, may open us to experience that love, but themselves are not substitute.

It is the love that changes everything.

What Do Poetry and Prayer Have in Common

Diane Roth, who is an associate pastor of one of the Lutheran churches in the Twin Cities (Woodlake Lutheran), wrote a blog post recently that began with the confession that although she loves both poetry and prayer, she doesn’t feel that she is particularly good at either one. Nonetheless, emulating some of her favorite poets, many of whose poems really are prayers (Mary Oliver and Denise Levertov are the examples she gave), she said she had been writing occasional “haiku prayers” over the last year or so. This activity prompted her to reflect on what poetry and prayer might have in common.

She suggested three ways the two are similar. The first is that both “have a necessary honesty.” A good poem, Roth suggested, “is, above all, honest. It doesn’t pull punches. It tells the truth. In fact, poetry is one way of getting deeper into truth, an expression of joy or lament or love that strips off artifice and reveals the depths of pain and hope.”

Prayer, of course, is the same. When I read her post, I was reminded of something John Powell, S.J., wrote:

Speaking to God honestly is the beginning of prayer; it locates a person before God… In speaking to God we must reveal our true and naked selves. We must tell him the truth of ourselves. We must tell him the truth of our thoughts, desires and feelings, whatever they may be. They may not be what I would like them to be, but they are not right or wrong, true or false. They are me.

Second, Roth suggested that prayer and poetry are both elliptical, by which she means that both “leave some things unsaid.” She elaborates,

Poems make you read between the lines. They do not say everything. Prayers do too, but in a different way, and perhaps for other reasons. Prayers a elliptical, because it is impossible to say all that is on our hearts. The apostle Paul has it right, “We do not know how to pray as we ought,” and so prayers will always leave some things unsaid. And yet, not saying everything, a poem or a prayer somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Each of her first two points is true and important in its own right. But perhaps the most important commonality she reminds us of is that “you don’t have to be good at it.”

I recalled when I read her post a conversation I had with my then spiritual director many years ago. I was having trouble expressing a deep feeling and I bemoaned, that if I were a poet I could express the depth of what I was a feeling in a poem. “What stops you from doing it?” Of course it was my feeling that it wouldn’t be good enough. Good enough for what, he chided me. Just do it, he encouraged me. And so I did. It wasn’t a great work of art. No one other than me and God ever read it. But that was just fine; the poem served its purpose.

Likewise with prayer. Directees or retreatants or others I counsel sometimes worry about whether they are praying “right.” There is no right; there is just you and God in honest encounter.

I was reminded when I read Roth’s post of Mary Oliver’s poem Praying, which I leave you with:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.